Arb may not be such a fan of Silent Night, but it will always be special to me. In my church while I was growing up, we would end our Christmas Eve service by all getting out of the pews to stand in a huge circle around the sanctuary. We’d pass out candles, then turn out all the lights, so there total darkness except the Advent candles at the altar. Somebody who had perfect pitch – usually my mom – would sing the first note, and then we would all join in, and sing Silent Night a cappella, in English and German, while passing the flame from candle to candle around the room. After it was done, we’d all stand in reverent silence for a little while, then the lights would come back on and we’d blow out our candles and put on our coats and quietly file out into the normal world again.
As Arb said last week, we’ve sung Silent Night in choir every year since we joined. It is getting a little old – I wouldn’t mind a new arrangement – but this year our concert at the women’s prison made it new for me again. Here’s the arrangement we always use – this video is in Swedish because our director is Swedish and she likes this arrangement by the Swedish composer Anders Öhrwall. We do it generally in English, and sometimes in other languages. I usually sing the solo.
Our choir has a ‘sister’ choir at the prison; this was a joint concert with them. The women’s choir took the solo line together and I joined them to add a bit of power. We did the middle verse multiple times, in multiple languages: we sang softly on “ooo”, as we were joined by a prisoner who sang in French, a couple prisoners who sang in Cree, an off-duty guard who came in on her day off to sing in Ukrainian, and the chaplain who sang in Afrikaans. Finally, another prisoner had composed a rap to be spoken over us. Each soloist – even the guard – got applause and cheers. As we did our last verses with the rapper, the room fell silent except for the sobs of a couple prisoners in the second row who held one another as they openly wept, then as the rapper finished the whole room burst into rapturous applause and cheering. Even the on-duty guards allowed themselves to smile.
It’s funny. I hate everything prisons stand for, and I don’t believe in Christmas, but that night I felt the Christmas spirit for the first time since I was a child. And it’s real. That sense of community, that despite our differences we’re all family, even if only the most distantly related, is something we need to carry with us out into the cold night, and keep in our hearts the whole year.
Wishing you joy, whatever holidays you may or may not celebrate at this time of year. May your days be merry and bright.